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You’re a Leader Without All the Answers? No Problem.

A good leader is supposed to have all the answers, right?

After all, people look to you for direction, guidance and what they should do. And, a good portion of your confidence as a leader is built upon your experience, your wisdom and you knowing what-is-what.

Except that isn’t working any more. Everything is confused, turbulent and changing moment by moment.

So, your usually-confident-self starts to doubt your value, your standing as a leader and your whole reputation, a little or a lot. It’s a pretty uncomfortable situation.

And, without answers, your people feel uncomfortable. They lose momentum. Plus, you don’t have the answers they are looking for (or are not at liberty to discuss them).

However, as much as your people are seeking answers from you, answers are not what they really want or need. They want answers to give them clarity. They want clarity to give them comfort.

That’s what they really want, comfort. They may not say that (or even know that), but that’s what they want.

What can you do as a leader when there is ambiguity instead of certainty? And how can you feel like the capable, effective, confident leader that you really are, despite the unknowns?

When the path isn’t clear, here are five things you can do as the leader to help your team feel greater comfort and stay on track:

Let Them Know What They Can Count On

You can give your people something they can feel secured with and anchored to. Just talk with them about what they can count on, even if there are things around them that are uncertain.

For instance, can they count on you to have periodic meetings; that you will tell them what you are able to share when you can share it? Can they count on having a frank dialog with you and their fellow team members? Can they count on that you will do your best to help them navigate the uncharted waters? Can they count on you responding in a reasonable period of time?

Tell them… but mean it.

Be Clear About What You Can Be Clear About

Communication is the currency of comfort and confidence. You cannot always tell them everything. Nor do you have all the details in every situation. There are always matters still to be planned and solutions not yet figured out.

But when you do have some clarity be as candid and open as you can. It buys you great respect and builds trust.

Set Expectations When It’s Not Clear

If you don’t know something nor have a plan, tell them what they can expect and when. If that expectation has to change, tell them in advance. If you can’t tell them what to expect from the company, tell them what they can expect from you.

Deliver What You Promise

Sometimes you cannot give them an answer, a strategy or a plan. This, of course, comes part-and-parcel with a climate of unpredictability. However, your people can hold on and hang in there in the face of minimal information if they feel confident that what you are telling them is true. Since confidence and comfort cannot come from clarity, it instead must come from trust in you. If you break that trust by not delivering, credibility collapses. Under-promise and over-deliver.

Remember That Not Everybody Is Like You

How is your own comfort level with ambiguity? Some leaders are more at home outside of black and white. For them, ambiguity is not an unfamiliar friend (or adversary). How about for you?

As a leader, it is important to remember that your people may be more uncomfortable and less able to function effectively without clarity than you. Be understanding and help them become able to stand more solidly in the fog. Please don’t tell them to “Get over it – life’s a grey zone!” That puts them back on unstable ground.

Best Practices:

Tips for leading when ambiguity abounds:

  • Set up (or maintain) a routine of frequent communication they can count on
  • Tune to what they want for communication – how frequently and how much they want
  • Use multiple communication channels, where needed, to reach various members of your team – live meetings, emails, chat or messenger messages, video shorts, check-in calls, 1:1 sessions, etc.
  • Remember, doing things consistently gives comfort and builds trust.

More: Dealing with Your Team’s Anxiety Even Though You Aren’t a Shrink